April 11, 2011


[Ed note: The demise of LaLa spelled the end of all of the embedded music links. The prospect of finding all that music and re-linking it all seemed too daunting, so the Pitchfork 500 project was suspended. This is about music, though, so I'll put here]


One of my long-time friends, one of my best friends, is getting married in a few weeks. Probably in an attempt to be (and seem) low key, they are not only forswearing a Wedding Band, they also are forswearing a Wedding DeeJay. Instead, music will be provided by Ipod, with each guest (or maybe just the young(er) ones) getting to select a song a piece.

This is of course an insane way to go about things, and it's not going to work, and if asked (and I haven't been and won't be), I would be against it. At least if it were me. Despite any misgivings, I do see that it's clearly a very fun way to go about things. And if I have any friend who will do things for the beauty of the process notwithstanding the fact that the result will clearly be a disaster, it is this one (not coincidentally, he's a Cleveland sports fan). So he and his betrothed may very well get something good out of it on their end, notwithstanding the inevitable Grateful Dead song or some other wedding-inappropriate nonsense someone will make us sit through.

On my end, I ended up spending a fair amount of time thinking about what the hell I was going to pick for my two songs. It's not a rock critic wedding or anything, but there will be a heavy serving of people that know their music and a touch of an artsy fartsy bent to the room.


Being a member of Gen X, there was but one starting point: irony.

Ha, ha! He doesn't really love her but all those fools think it's a love song. (Next up, Born in the USA! it's not really patriotic -- suckers!). If you are so inclined, you can root around the web and find all kinds of lists of love songs that aren't.

But this one is no good, mostly because it's just mean for a friend and a fiance that I like. Irony is mean sometimes.


But what about songs that plainly aren't love songs? So the irony isn't derived from the fact that people think it is a love song, but instead is derived from the setting: playing a song about non-love at a wedding! Something along the lines of little GnR "I used to love her (but I had to kill her)," except a song that's actually good.

Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division seems like a good pick. But there is a particular one that my buddy and I had bonded over -- even sang together more than once on the walk from a party or bar:

But irony is a one-trick pony. You get the joke in 15 seconds, and then what?

Well, here you get to listen to an amazing song. So maybe it's a two-trick pony here.

But the irony just sits on the song, weighs it down, makes it sag. It's better without it.


He would not choose Divorce Song.


I started rooting around the web for lists of wedding songs to inspire me.

There are lots of these lists, most of them just as awful as one might expect. In fact, here is one for "really cool people" that features "Let me Put My Love Into You" by AC/DC. You go through the lists, you see lots of names appearing over and over:

Angel Eyes by Jeff Healey

When a Man Loves a Woman by Michael Bolton (not the one from Office Space)

The Way You Look Tonight by Eric Clapton;

I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston

Love Me Tender by Elvis

Can You Feel the Love Tonight by Elton John

ad nauseum (seriously, look at all the Celine Dion peppered over these lists for too long and you'll sick yourself)

I hadn't wanted to go back to irony, but surfing these for a while gets you more and more excited about the ironic possibilities. So many bad songs in this world! And finally gold, a truly awful song that everyone knows but no one thinks of (and it was actually a popular wedding song and appeared on list after list!):

Irony is the buzz in the front of your brain that any member of Gen X must work through. For my generation, the irony just comes automatically. With any new idea, you're going to have the ironic take on it, so it's pretty much most efficient to not even try to avoid being ironic. It's better to concentrate on it and plumb the depths of the ironic possibilities, bathe yourself in the irony, wallow in it, so you can come out the other side into Earnestland as quickly as possible. And you will come out the other side reasonably soon. Irony tires.

My friend believes this more than me. After a few too many years of PBR in cans, underground bars and trips into marginal neighborhoods, my friend's motto was actually Down With Irony for a time, and maybe still is.

Sorry Atlantic Starr.


What about ideas that are not actually ironic? Choose the thing that seems to everyone else like it absolutely must be done ironically, while secretly being totally earnest about it. Nothing hides an embarassing truth better than a sheen of faux irony.

For around a year, I have been messing around, playing the piano now and again. (I'm not good at all, but I don't understand why society thinks that means I should stop ... no really, why does everyone that's just average have to quit everything?).

And I cannot stop playing Heaven by Bryan Adams.

I play it several times a week. I just love the chord progression.

So I should pick Bryan Adams. When my songs comes on and I tell people, they'll chuckle and I'd wink or something stupid. I might even say "I like that song" and they'd assume I was joking, and I would be safe in the knowledge that my love of Heaven was going undetected.

But then I realized that the reason it pleases me to play the song on the piano was because I didn't have to listen to Bryan Adams singing along to my playing. So that one was out.


Everyone was going to pick music. Music is great, but many forms of non-music are great too. For examples:

Alec Baldwin's speech in Glengarry Glen Ross.
Churchill's speeches before World War II.
Mitch Hedberg's Comedy.
SNL's Celebrity Jeopardy sketch.

Or the Intro to a 1970s-era program on VHS tape I bought off Ebay a few years back titled "Ten Year War" :

I am a diehard Buckeye, but Bo's shoes win. It's really no contest.


What my buddy and I bonded over most is probably sports; our shared love of Cleveland sports. I helped get him through his debilitating anxiety in the pre-game hours -- told him why we were going to win, talking him out of his intricate theories. He kept me up to date, talked me back after depressing losses -- and once talked me out of putting a dead bird in a classmate's mailbox when the classmate's team -- the Orioles -- took out the Indians in the 1996 playoffs. We were good for one another.

And so if alternative entertainment was to be considered, why not sports? And I wasn't thinking about awful stuff like God Hates Cleveland Sports (don't click on it if you've been depressed lately).

And I wasn't thinking about the endless string of mediocre to crappy Cleveland Sports Songs. All of those are excludable for any number of reasons: Bernie Bernie (waaay too repetitive), 12 Days of Browns Christmas (Art Modell mentioned throughout), Hard Workin' Town Hard Workin' Team (or whatever the hell it's called, DQ'd for too many mentions of the "orange and blue" which make me recall those awful uniforms), Indian Fever (the most synthetic horns ever recorded), It's Tribe Time Now (for the awful male vocals - why is baseball a sexy-voice occasion?)

While C'mon Cavs got the most consideration of the bunch, I was thinking the pinnacle of sports entertainment.

I was thinking NFL Films:

Damn. That one has an unhappy ending. After looking at a variety of Browns-based NFL films, they all appeared to have similar unhappy endings (at least the ones I was old enough to remember). So the Browns were out.

In Cleveland, baseball comes after football. So how 'bout Omar? Everyone loves a little Omar. Alas, MLB doesn't allow videos on youtube (or pretty much anywhere). And while I searched hard and long and hard for some Omar Y Amigos clips, none were to be found. A little Omar non-game action was the best I had:

I love that clip.

Of course, choosing the above to be played at a wedding would amount to a Katrina and the Waves song choice. It was time to move away from sports recordings.


I thought about personal remembrances. I could do a spoken word performance; recount my excitement in the 1997 playoffs, Sandy's double, the botched squeeze/steal of home. I could sing 1998's "Do The Knoblauch!" But these too had too many sad endings.

How to rekindle the hope? The answer lies with youth. And I have that living in my house!

So I asked the 10 year old what she knew about Cleveland sports:

Too depressing for a Cleveland sports fan's wedding, I think.


OK. Irony is out. Sports is out. Where to now?

It occurs to me that the main problem with "Let The People Pick The Music" idea is knowing when to put the dance songs on. I mean, what if you get 10 normal songs and 90 dance songs? And you do your best, but then the songs for the dancing start in the middle of the salad course? Brick House in the middle of the toast? Damned Chaos!

So I emailed him: "Are the Songs For the Dancing or Not for the Dancing?" And all I got from the buddy was a tepid email back with a "whatever you want" crap answer. Sigh.

So it apparently was my job to figure out what percentage of these wedding goers were going to choose dancing songs, and my inner Richard Dawson told me that the number was WAY less than the number of dance songs that we needed.

To prevent chaos, it's thus my sacrificial job to pick dancing songs, whatever I might want to pick.

But luckily the last 20 years have some excellent songs for the dancing:

And there's Zero by the Yeah Yeah Yeah's. MIA's Paper Planes. Timberlake. Just an embarrassment of riches to choose from, actually.

And I'm too old to be going to many weddings anymore, but there is one 2000's song that's gotta now be a fixture at Indie-ish Weddings. I was close to picking it, but realized that I shouldn't waste my pick on something that someone else almost certainly was going to order up. I mean, is there any wedding in America where either this next song or Single Ladies / Put a Ring on It by Beyonce isn't played?

So I have to assume some smart person has both of these covered:

And really, the LCD Soundsystem song I'd really want to pick is Losing My Edge, but that song is disqualified because, while I claim that the song is about him, he claims that the song is about me. So picking it would be like if Thomas Brokaw went to this wedding and chose the NBC Nightly News theme song for his pick. So no Losing My Edge.

John Darnielle, the Mountain Goats guy, has argued in depth that the following is one of the best songs ever, and it's awful good:

(I had no idea about the After Party, much less the Hotel Lobby)

Dipping into the 1990s, I even had buddy-specific songs from our 1996-1999 heyday (I had totally forgotten how visible nipples suddenly became acceptable in 1996):

You cannot play the above around my buddy without him explaining with a truly bizzare amount of pride - a real twinkle in his eye, as if he actually invented something - at how he predicted the Spice Girls would make it big. I was close to picking this, but ultimately, too ridiculous (and if you pay attention to the video, they're really acting like giant assholes ... a feminist clockwork orange situation).

And, finally, a song that I actually thought I would pick for a little while due to my buddy's inability to stop preaching the virtues of Mase for a good 3 months:

But Sean Jean. He ... ahem ... presents a bit differently under the lights of 2011 than he did 15 years ago, no?


The problem with picking dancing songs from the last 20 years is that old people don't know them. While EVERYONE knows the best 20 dancing songs from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, only the young(ish) know the best dancing songs from the 1990s and 2000s. So if you're really tryin' to get a wedding crowd into it, then you want something that everyone can enjoy. And if that is your criteria -- and you're picking a dance song for the greater good, so that is your criteria -- then you should be choosing from the music that's 20-50 years old.

So where does that leave us? How about Brits? Maybe a little Just Like Heaven by the Cure. Or everyone's favorite:

Ultimately a little too easy. You get no clever credits for picking The Smiths. And people that don't know 1990s and 2000s music aren't going to know the Smiths.

So how about:

Mike's image is now rehabbed such that you can play his songs without "child molester" popping into people's heads (and if you haven't watched THIS IS IT you absolutely should do so; it's very good) The main danger with choosing the King of Pop was a semi-drunk me grabbing people by the lapels and expounding upon the virtues of MJ for hours on end. I love that guy too much. So to save myself from embarrassment, he was out.

But why stop at the 1980s? If we're maximizing the dancing possibilities then we should go earlier and earlier...:

And when I wrote "Captain and Tenille" on my list, completely seriously, I realized off off-kilter the whole "pick a dance song for the greater good" idea had went.

And I'm a Republican. Screw the Greater Good.


I was spending too much time on this, and I was annoyed by the collapse of the three ideas of Irony, Sports and the Greater Good, and that sent me into a bad place: Novelty Song Land.

Novelty Song Land is ruled over (benevolently) by They Might Be Giants, so that's where I started, and while they have many good songs, I didn't see any wedding-appropriate ones. Don't Let's Start ("everybody dies sad and frustrated and that is beautiful") is sufficiently philosophical for a wedding, but belonged up with Idea # 2.

And then there's Weird Al. Ah, Weird Al. I really like I'll be Mellow When I'm Dead, but I also understand why I'm the only one to like it . What kind of person likes non-parody Weird Al? My enjoyment of this is best not made public.

I pondered the obvious: Marry You, the Bruno Mars song.

This was immediately trumped by Glee's version (the checkbox diversity is great here):

And for a while, I thought they said "is it the look in your eyes, or is it these dancing Jews" and I thought EUREKA, but apparently it is "dancing juice." (that makes no sense, actually, maybe it's "dancing shoes"?).

And of course, the above was inspired by the "jkwedding entrance dance" which I'm in favor of (completely, in fact), but those poor folks chose a Chris Brown song titled "Forever" to do the dance too, so now, with Chris Brown a domestic assaultier (rhymes with sommelier), they need to inoculate themselves by filling their YouTube page with "we don't like violence against women" statements. Good times!

If you want novelty, however, there is nothing more novelty than Christian Rock. A personal fave declared the supremacy of Christianity over all other religions in such a blatant way as to make it the least PC song ever. It did, however, mock inter-denomination conflict, which was nice. References to Sun Myung Moon and Hare Krishnas place the piece squarely in the early 1980s:

OK. This wasn't working out.


Anyone that loved music in the past 25 years has a stack of something (albums, tapes, CDs, whatever). When forced to pick a song, if one doesn't spring to mind, there's only one thing to do. Comb the stacks.

[sidebar: of course, combing the stacks is not with us for long. My wife and I filled our bookshelves recently and needed another for the living room, and for a while worried that we were going to buy it and then just put a Kindle on it and never buy another book again. Without CD collections, without bookshelves, how the hell are you going to learn about other people when you go to their place? When they claim to like "all kinds of music" (alarm bells going off) and you can't actually see what's sitting next to the speakers? I always wanted to see a girl's book and CD collections before I saw her bra strap.]

So I combed the stacks (and after that, my computer as well) and just made lists. I figured, if I didn't own the music, I didn't like it enough to choose for a wedding. And after winnowing it down, I had eight songs. In reverse order:


Songs 6 through 8 were:

SPARKLE by Phish, EYE KNOW by De La Soul and INTO MY ARMS by Nice Cave

I'm not embedding these, but links are above.

All three are about relationships or love and Sparkle even tells the story of an engagement and maybe wedding (but with a hint of foreboding) and all three are absolutely excellent songs, but all three got nixed because, to me, they are songs that I own too much. When I hear these songs, in my mind, I'm the protagonist. Choosing them would be choosing songs about me for other people. It would be too
creepy, too intimate, like having me staring at them watching them kiss, and hoping it's a good kiss. These songs were out.


INDIAN SUMMER by The Beat Happening

The too precious song that inspired all the other too precious artists of the last 25 years. It's a great song. It's a relationship song, but the repeated "we'll go our separate ways" didn't make it a wedding song.


I'M NEW HERE by Gil Scott Heron

GIL! SCOTT! HERON! (I'm losing my edge!)

This song is just awesome. It has nothing to do with weddings or love or anything, however. I just like it a lot (although I recognize that this is probably a phase and five years from now I will have completely forgotten about him). And why is he smiling at the end?


Strange Overtones by Byrne and Eno:

This song just feels comfortable and envelopes you. Who the hell knew these two guys had this in them for 2008? Excellent lyrics for the occasion. But there can be only two (but feel free to sub this back in to keep the appropriate dance / mellow mix!)


I have loved Minor Threat since the day in high school when a friend stuck the tape into his car's stereo and the rage burst out of the speakers as we drove around town. And I still enjoy angry music a little too much.

When I comb the stacks these days, no matter what the purpose, my id, wanting to hear Minor Threat, overrides the rest of my brain and convinces it that a Minor Threat song is of course appropriate for the situation.

Looking through my music for some soft music to get the kids to sleep to? How about a little Automatic For the People-era REM, a little Iron & Wine and, oh yes, Minor Threat too (grabbing all three CD's from the stacks). Need a good dance song? How about Tones on Tail's GO, some Daft Punk and -- oh yes -- Minor Threat please.

But here it actually worked. After listening to the opening seconds of the first 24 songs of the album, I arrived at song 25:

The clarity and confidence of the guitar -- so different than most of their songs -- and the playfulness of the bass -- it's just a great song.

It's also seemed like this must be a cover of somebody, but I didn't know of what or who. So I googled "good guys don't wear white" and when you do this, you learn that a good chunk of 1970s and beyond punk bands have covered this song (here's the Cramps' version, who Minor Threat maybe thought they were covering). And you also learn that the song was originally done all the way back in the 1960s by proto-garage rockers The Standells (best known for the Red Sox victory anthem "Dirty Water," but I'm choosing not to hold that against them). And their versions were spectacular:

But looking for other versions, I stumbled across an even better cover, a hidden gem, really by the Dilly Sisters, a pair of pre-teen Mexican sisters who became popular through appearances on the Banana Splits television show:

For the wedding, any of the three will suffice!

And, finally, why not a song about marriage in particular, about how the word "wife" just seems insufficiently exciting for the woman you marry, but also about how the modern conception of marriage is a touch too individuality-destroying? All in less than two minutes, and by Jonathan Richman, one of the greatest live performers ever:

So there you go.